A friend asked the question: How do I pray for unbelievers? How do I pray effectively? I trust that every Christian regularly prays for family or friends or colleagues or neighbors who do not yet know the Lord. And while we can and must pray for matters related to their lives and circumstances, the emphasis of our prayers must always be for their salvation. Here are some ways the Bible can guide our prayers.
Prayers for Salvation
We begin with prayers for salvation. Each of these prayers seeks the same thing, but in a different way or from a different angle or using different language. Each of them is grounded in a specific text of Scripture.
Pray that God would circumcise their hearts. Circumcision was the Old Testament sign of entering into God’s covenant, of being God’s people. To have a circumcised heart symbolizes having a heart that is fully joined to God, fully submissive to him. “And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:6).
Pray that God would give them a heart of flesh. The Bible contrasts a heart of flesh, a heart that is alive and responsive to God, to a heart of stone, a heart that is cold and unyielding. Pray that God would work within these unbelievers to change their hearts. “And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh…” (Ezekiel 11:19).
Pray that God would put his Spirit within them. The great joy of salvation is being indwelled by God himself. Pray that God would grant this honor to those unbelievers, that he would choose to take up residence within them. “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:27).
Pray that they would come to Christ. If unbelievers are to come to salvation, there is just one way. They must come through Christ and Christ alone. “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6). Remember, too, that he is the one who calls them to come and to be relieved of the burden of their sin (see Matthew 11:28-30).
Pray that God would open their hearts to believe the gospel. Once more, God must initiate and people must respond. So pray that God would open the hearts of these unbelievers so they can in turn believe, just as Lydia did. “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul” (Acts 16:14).
Pray that God would free them from the slavery of sin. Unbelievers may believe they are free, but they are in fact enslaved. They are slaves of sin, bound by their sin and sinfulness. Pray that God would liberate them by his gospel. “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed” (Romans 6:17).
Pray that God would remove Satan’s blinding influence . Unbelievers have been blinded by Satan and will only ever be able to see and appreciate the gospel if God works within them. So pray that God would give them sight—spiritual sight. “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
Pray that God would grant them repentance. Unbelievers cannot repent without the enabling grace of God. So pray that God would grant them repentance, that this repentance would lead them to a knowledge of the truth. Pray as well that they would come to their senses and that they would escape from the devil’s snare. “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:25-26).
Prayers For You
You have prayed for unbelievers using different words and approaching from different angles. But you should also pray for yourself.
Pray that you will develop relationship with them. For people to be saved they must first hear the good news of the gospel. For them to hear the good news of the gospel, they must first encounter Christians—Christians like you. Pray that you would develop deeper, more significant relationship with them so you can, in turn, speak truth. “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14).
Pray for opportunities to minister to them. Many people come to faith after seeing Christ’s loved displayed through the ministry of Christians. Pray for opportunities to minister to unbelievers so that your ministry can have an evangelistic effect. “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Pray for them faithfully and persistently. Our temptation is to grow discouraged in prayer, to pray for a while and, when we see no visible results, to give up. But God calls us to persevere in prayer. “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (Colossians 4:2). (See also the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18:1-8.)
Pray for a burden to plead for their souls. Paul was willing to tell the church at Rome of his great longing to see the salvation of the lost. Do you share this deep longing? Pray that God would give you a great burden for souls. “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1).
Pray for boldness in generating and taking opportunities to speak the gospel. Even Paul longed for this boldness and for the confidence that he was speaking the right and best words. Pray that God would give you the boldness and, that when you take the opportunities, that he would then guide your words. “ also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel…” (Ephesians 6:19).
Pray for other believers to encounter them. God almost always uses a succession of people to share the gospel with people before they are saved. Pray, then, that God would lead other Christians into the lives of the unbelievers you love, that they too would provide an example of Christian living and that they too would speak the gospel. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6).
Here are a few more biblical emphases to guide your prayers.
Pray that God would use any circumstance to do his work in them. We pray to a God who is sovereign and who sovereignly works his good will. Often he saves people through difficult circumstances, through bringing them to the very end of themselves. Pray, then, that God would arrange circumstances, whether easy or difficult, to lead them to salvation. “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word” (Psalm 119:67). As you pray for the unbelievers you love, always pray to God: “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
Pray that God would extend his mercy to them. God assures us that he wishes for all people to turn to him in repentance and faith. He receives no joy from seeing people perish. Pray, then, that God would be glorified in the salvation of these people. “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
Pray with confidence. Finally, pray with confidence. God expects we will pray, God invites us to pray, God commands us to pray. Why? Because God loves to hear us pray and God loves to respond to our prayers. So as you pray for unbelievers, pray with confidence that God hears your prayers. “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16).
John 3:16 states “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” While we know this to be true and hold it dear to our hearts, there are people in this world who are unaware of God, His Love, His Son Jesus, and His gift of eternal salvation.
Nonbelievers may include some of your friends, family members, or coworkers. When we realize that someone hasn’t turned their life over to God, we may be sad, scared for them, and confused about how to respond.
One great way to help those who do not believe is by praying for them. We can do so by effectively asking God for His guidance. By lifting them up in prayer, we can ask God to help them begin a faith journey or ask for advice on how to minister to them. The Lord will listen to your cries and work through you.
Here are a few prayers to help you get started when praying for a unbeliever.
Prayer They Will Know God
My Heavenly Father, in John 17:3, Jesus says, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” Jesus was praying that people come to know You, our only means to eternal salvation. Today I choose to pray as Jesus did and ask that You help those who have yet to give their lives to Christ. May Your love and power reveal themselves to the nonbelievers, so that they will someday know You! Amen.
Prayer That God Will Turn Their Stubborn Heart
Lord Almighty, as I pray today for those that do not know Jesus I ask that You can break whatever it is that has control over their heart that takes them away from knowing You. Psalm 119:67 says, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.” It is true that many have to fall to their lowest points in life before they turn their life over to You. It often takes painful circumstances to drive us to Christ. Addiction, lust, materialism, and other deadly sins are false gods that are stealing the hearts of those who need You the most. I pray for those who are unsaved that You will be able to rip the bondage of what is holding them back. May they seek You! Amen.
Prayer That God Will Put His Spirit Within Them
Holy Spirit, I know the great joy of salvation is being indwelled by God himself. I pray that God would grant this honor to those unbelievers, that He would choose to take up residence within them. May He fill the hearts of those who have yet to see Him! As Ezekiel 36:27 states, “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” I am blessed to have the Spirit within me, and I pray for that blessing for unbelievers so that they can know true happiness. Amen.
Prayer For God to Remove Satan’s Influence
Lord, it is scary to know that unbelievers have been blinded by Satan. In 2 Corinthians 4:4 it says, “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” How will they ever know You if they are blind? I pray that they are able to see and appreciate the gospel by You working within them. I pray God that You give them opportunities to see the light and glory of Jesus Christ. Bless them with the spiritual sight needed to break the influence that Satan has taken over them. Amen.
Prayer For Opportunities to Minister to Them
Lord, I know it is my duty to spread the Word of God and show others the glory that can be found within You. Many people come to faith after seeing Christ’s loved displayed through the ministry of Christians. So today, I pray for opportunities to minister to unbelievers. Help me to spread Your ministry effectively to those who do not know you. I pray that You work through other Christians, so that they have the ability to minister to nonbelievers too. Lead us all to opportunities to encounter those who do not know Jesus. Let us all be an example of Christian living. “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Prayer For God to Extend His Mercy on Them
God, I know that it is Your deepest wish to have all people have faith in You. It must break your heart in seeing someone choose false gods. I pray that You continue to be patient and merciful on those who have not yet found You. As it is said in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to parish but everyone to come to repentance.” How blessed are we to have a God that will wait for us to turn our hearts to Him! We are blessed by a merciful and loving God that receives no joy in watching someone perish without knowing His love. Amen.
Messiah, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, we praise Your holy name. We magnify You, Oh great Lamb who sits on the throne. We lift the unbelievers before You, Oh God, have divine intervention in their lives. Grant them the privilege of hungering and thirsting after You, for life with You is so wonderful.
Hebrews 3:12 Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of You an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.
May they taste the sweetness of having You in their lives. Bless them with a witness to Your Holy Presence. Touch their hearts Oh God, help them to turn from their wicked ways. Interject change within them that they would come to the realization that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and no one can enter Your heavenly kingdom except through Him.
1 Timothy 1:13 Even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief
And, as they begin to seek You, reveal Yourself to them, Oh Saviour, for the enemy will try to attack with force. Protect them from all evil, give them strength to overcome the darkness, peace in their hearts, joy in their souls and faith that will last for eternity. Every mountain, every hill and every valley will be removed in Jesus name!
2 Corinthians 6:14-15 Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?
Remind them that Your love never fails, and Your mercies and grace endure forever. Remind them also of the blood that was shed for them, to save lowly sinners such as ourselves out of Your love of humanity and hope that we would one day change. Give us the power to fulfill Your will as we obey Your word daily and we claim that unbelievers will be saved and find their way at the sound of Your great name. Amen.
Hebrews 4:2 For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard.